Mr. Speaker, before I get into my speech I wish to inform the Chair that I will be splitting my time with the member for Nanaimo—Cowichan.
I am privileged to stand here in support of the motion of the member for Prince George—Bulkley Valley.
As I studied politics and took an interest in politics in Canada and around the world, I realized one thing. People who are elected to govern or sit in opposition have one primary responsibility that overrides all else. It is for the safety and well-being of its law-abiding citizens.
That is what we are trying to do today. We are trying to form a motion that can proceed and pass in this House in order to protect the legal, law-abiding citizens in our country.
We all know, from the things that have been said so far, that tragic things are happening to individuals and to families right across Canada because of criminals who drink and drive. I call them criminals because I want everybody to recognize one thing, that making the decision to drink and drive, whether it is a boat, a car or an airplane, is like picking up a weapon. It is a life threatening act which could kill or maim the driver, the passengers, other drivers and their passengers. It can ruin the lives of their families and friends who must deal with the tragedy. It can possibly affect many innocent bystanders.
I am going to get a little personal on this issue. I was not going to. Normally I like to speak to everybody involved on anything that is personal. I have not had time to speak to my wife because I was not going to bring personal happenings into this today, but I think I must.
When I was 23 years of age, my wife then was 18, I was on the way to the wedding of my future brother-in-law. My job was to pick up the flowers to take to the wedding. Another brother-in-law of mine was in the car too. On the way a vehicle turned into our path. I was the driver of our vehicle. John, my brother-in-law, was the passenger.
At the time of impact I remember seeing a small child come through the window of the vehicle that hit us. I will always remember seeing the impact of that child on the hood of my car. That is the last thing I remembered for a long time. I was in the hospital for nine months. My pancreas was ripped and my liver was ripped off and my career was changed forever.
My wife Cis spent many months, because of under-insurance of the other driver involved, picking strawberries and fruit in order to be on the coast—because we were from the interior—to stay with me through all of this.
I never got a chance to really talk to the other driver. Alcohol was involved. The other driver had been drinking but not enough to be charged with impaired driving. The child involved was his grandson. That child lived but was in a coma for 19 or 21 days. The child was left a paraplegic.
Did this accident have to happen? No. When the driver, the grandfather, was asked about this, he said he could give no reason for turning into our vehicle at that time. It was a straight highway. He did not know why he turned into it. I have often wondered about that. He had been drinking at a function and he had left there to drive home with his grandson. I wondered then as I wonder now if different laws had been in place whether that child would be better off than he is today. It is quite possible. Would that grandfather have to go through the pain that he probably goes through every day now when he looks at his grandson?
One has to take all of that into consideration. My heart goes out to the families of these tragedies. Last year, just outside of Vernon where I am from, three young women from Okanagan—Shuswap decided to drive home after an evening's entertainment in Kelowna, a neighbouring community. They had gone only a few miles before they turned into the path of a logging truck. All of them were killed. Now their families, friends and loved ones have to deal with that. It is almost impossible to deal with that type of tragedy. This is all because we have a system in the country which allows judges to interpret our laws when it comes to impaired driving.
This happens in my constituency and I know it happens in other constituencies. It happens every day. As the hon. member for Prince George—Bulkley Valley stated when he spoke to the motion, 4.5 Canadians are killed every day due to impaired driving and many thousands a year are left as paraplegics or have to suffer other consequences.
It was just last week that the Mothers Against Drunk Driving visited the Hill. Its members wanted the public to become aware of a random poll which they asked the Canadian people at large. It is interesting to find out, in answer to the question: Should a driver be convicted of impaired driving causing death, would you strongly support or strongly oppose a minimum jail sentence?, that 47.9% answered they would strongly support minimum a jail sentence for impaired driving causing death, and another 37.6% answered they would support it. This adds up to a total of 85.5% who would either support or strongly support a minimum sentence.
This should send a message to us here. These are the people who pay our wages. These people put their trust in us to make the laws that will protect them. That is our job and our obligation. I believe that if we in the House work together, we can live up to that trust.